illustration of a ghost standing behid an iron fence with its arm raised against a large mansion

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde

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What arguments did Mr. Otis use to claim the jewels in The Canterville Ghost?

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Mr. Otis says that under the English laws of "mortmain" or perpetual ownership, the jewels are actually the property of Lord Canterville, even though Mr. Otis has purchased Canterville Hall. Mr. Otis also argues that Virginia, though 15, is "merely a child," that she obtained the jewels in an odd way (from a ghost) and that she has no interest in items of luxury. In fact, Mr. Otis strongly argues that owning expensive aristocratic jewels runs counter to the ideals of "Republican simplicity" of this all-American family. He calls the jewels "vain gauds and toys." He is even bemused by his daughter's desire to keep the box the jewels came in (though not the jewels themselves), calling it "medievalism" and attributing it to Virginia having been born in a London suburb. He also mentions that the jewels are very costly, and implies the money would be useful to Lord Canterville.

Ironically, the all-American Virginia does keep the jewels and ends up as the Duchess of Chesire, an accurate reflection of the tendency of wealthy Americans to marry English aristocrats during this time period. 

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